Summer Food Safety

How to Outwit Bacteria and Grill Like a Pro

by Brigitte Bankay

Summer is approaching and it's time for picnics, barbecues and-if you're not careful-food-borne illness. Stomach and intestinal upsets increase dramatically in the summer as people leave behind refrigerators, running water and other sanitation aids to eat in the outdoors. You don't have be a victim though. Food-borne illnesses are 100 percent preventable.

Don't Give Bacteria a Chance

Bacteria that cause stomach upsets, such as Salmonella, E. coli and Staphylococcus, can reproduce rapidly in many foods if given enough moisture, time and the correct pH and temperature range. Since many of the foods we like-meat, meat products, pasta, potato salad, rice-naturally have the pH and moisture these organisms require, we can only control the time food is exposed to hazardous temperatures.

Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Avoid the temperature danger zone between 41° F and 140° F. Put only well-chilled food into your cooler and carry plenty of ice. Keep the cooler closed so the ice will last as long as possible. If you freeze containers of water overnight, you can use them to cool your food and then drink the ice-water later.

Make sure that hot food is thoroughly cooked and keep it at or above 140° F after cooking it.

Don't leave leftover food out in the open. Put it back into your cooler as soon as possible or dispose of it.

Avoid Cross-Contamination

Anything coming in contact with raw meat, such as cutting boards, plates or knives, can pass along bacteria and viruses to other foods they touch. Washing these items with boiling water or a bleach solution between uses will prevent contamination. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meats and fish. Also wash after using the bathroom, sneezing, coughing or touching your body. People carry many bacteria, and some, such as Staphylococcus aureus, will thrive when transferred to food. Viruses that live in the gastrointestinal tract of humans (enteroviruses) pass easily from person to person via food and can cause serious illness. Don't let sick folks prepare the picnic.

Do not touch ready-to-eat foods unless you have just washed your hands. Use utensils (forks, tongs, etc.) or even rubber gloves for serving, especially if there are no hand washing facilities at your picnic area. But remember, gloved hands get dirty and contaminated just as ungloved hands do. Wash or change the gloves.

Avoid Pink Burgers

Cook hamburgers thoroughly. Ground meat can be contaminated with E. coli. If you like your beef rare, stick to steak. It can be cooked on the outside (killing the bacteria) and left undercooked on the inside where contamination will not have reached. Also make sure that poultry and pork are cooked through.

Barbecue Safety Tips

Here's how to keep your barbecue from attracting the fire department:

Set the grill on a level surface away from dry weeds and other combustibles, including your house and garage.

Follow package directions when using lighter fluid. Never use gasoline or other flammable liquids to start the fire. Or use a chimney charcoal lighter and spare the air.

Fan a charcoal fire to revive it. Never add more starter fluid.

Use the grill outside and leave it outside after grilling to prevent a build-up of carbon monoxide (an odorless, tasteless and lethal gas) in your home.

Have an appropriate multipurpose fire extinguisher handy just in case. · Completely cool any ashes remaining from the barbecue before disposing of them.

If you want to barbecue on university property, you must obtain a permit from the Office of Environment, Health and Safety, 642-3073.

Following the simple precautions above can make your outdoor eating memorable for the right reasons.

For More Help...

For information on food safety, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture web site at

For information on food-borne illness, visit the Food and Drug Administration web site at

For questions about training on safe food preparation and storage at Berkeley, or to get a temporary food permit for your event, call campus sanitarian Brigitte Bankay at 642-1977.

Brigitte Bankay, registered environmental health specialist, is the campus sanitarian and works at the Office of Environment, Health and Safety.


Copyright 1997, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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